Celebrating freedom in the Big Apple

City Winery has 250 guests attending a pre-Pessah Seder, including well known speakers and performers.

April 17, 2011 02:55
2 minute read.
Downtown Seder

downtown seder 311. (photo credit: citywinery.com)


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NEW YORK – In the unofficial capital of Diaspora Jewry, Passover is a time of year marked by certain hallmarks. It’s the time of year when buds begin appearing on trees, and when various brands of matza crowd each other on supermarket shelves. It’s conspicuously easier to get seats at top-notch pizzerias for a week or so, but it’s tough to get a seat at some of New York’s top-shelf model Seders.

City Winery in TriBeCa usually has around 250 guests, and that’s not counting the main attractions, who include speakers and performers ranging from sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer to Israeli guitarist David Broza.

City Winery’s Michael Dorf said this was the 11th time he’d held his model downtown Seder since 1989.

“I started it for people, and many musicians and artists, who wanted an alternative to their regular Seders,” Dorf recalled. “Once it got so popular, I decided to move it a few days before Passover, so that people could take elements of it and use it for their own, more intimate Seders.”

Dorf estimated that 75% of the City Winery Seder’s attendees will have their own Seder, and that many will incorporate parts of his Haggada for use in their own Seders.

“For me, the central lesson is the connection to the everlasting struggle against oppression,” Dorf said, adding that he wanted “people to bring today’s Pharaohs to the table, discuss the issues, and try and be active about making changes in this world.”

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Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox Jewish social justice organization, teamed up with Hazon (an organization geared toward Jewish environmental knowledge and sustainability) and Pursue, a social justice organization for twenty-somethings, to host a Food Justice Seder the week before Pessah for 65 participants in Brooklyn. The Food Justice Seder highlights themes related to food, social justice, and ethical consumption found in the Haggada.

“The Seder is such a powerful Jewish meal,” Uri L’Tzedek co-founder Ari Hart said. “Its food recreates the tastes of slavery and freedom: matza, the bread of affliction; the maror of embittered lives and hard work; haroset, thick as mortar; the four cups of triumphant redemption; and the savory Pessah sacrifice, a celebration of being passed-over and chosen for a life of service. Food at the Seder goes beyond just simple nourishment; it is symbolic and performative.”

“In every generation we must continue the work of the Exodus and continue to create freedom and fairness in the world,” Hart said. “In this generation, we’ve chosen to add an ambitious chapter to the Seder’s never-ending story of oppression and freedom: food and justice.”

Romemu, a New York progressive egalitarian community which describes itself as “unabashedly eclectic,”hosts an interfaith seder for a third year in a row this year. The Seder emphasizes interactions between faiths and common ground for understanding the Jewish exodus.

At last year’s interfaith Seder, there were 150 attendees, and the Seder was simultaneously ‘Tweeted.’ A sample excerpt: “…consider where your hands have been last year, what you used them for to gain, letting others wash is an act of trust….”

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